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Columnist Jay Fleitman: Lack of due process in Alabama allegations

  • Former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a campaign rally, Nov. 27 in Henagar, Ala. AP FILE PHOTO



Monday, December 04, 2017

The legal sabotage of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ 2008 reelection bid by the Justice Department remains a seminal event in recent political history that resonates through the current cultural climate.

At that time, Stevens was the longest serving Senate Republican in history who enjoyed an impeccable reputation and the respect of his colleagues. He had served over 40 years in the Senate, and during his re-election campaign was brought up on federal corruption charges. Just prior to the election he was convicted.

He lost that election by 3,700 votes at a time when the balance of power in the Senate between the two major parties was critical to implementing the broad agenda of incoming President Barack Obama. After the conviction, politicians of both parties, including Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, and presidential candidates Obama and John McCain, demanded that Stevens withdraw from the Senate. Senator Reid, then majority leader, announced he would schedule a vote to expel  Stevens from the Senate, and even before the election Sen. James DeMint announced he would move to expel Stevens from the Republican caucus regardless of the election results.

Stevens continued to protest his innocence after the conviction. Just a few months after Stevens’ election loss, a whistleblower revealed that the Justice Department prosecutors had hidden a witness whose testimony was clearly exculpatory to Stevens and that they had allowed their key witness against Stevens to perjure himself during the trial.

A federal judge vacated the conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct. None of the prosecutors were tried for this misconduct. Two were suspended from their positions only to have those suspensions overturned soon thereafter.

To this day this has the appearance of the misuse of the powers of the attorney general of Alaska and the federal Justice Department in a political dirty tricks operation designed to swing the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

It is in this context that the current Senate election in Alabama has to be viewed. Once again, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate is very much up for grabs and the Republican candidate has come under serious allegations first surfacing right in the middle of a campaign for a pivotal Senate seat.

Former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore is the Republican competing for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by the appointment by President Donald Trump of  Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to the post of attorney general. Though he is well out of the mainstream of the national Republican Party, Moore has been generally held in high regard by the people of his home state.

Only during the course of this special election have several women surfaced to accuse Moore, now 70, of inappropriate behavior and even possible sexual abuse toward them 40 years ago when he was in his 30s, and they were ages spanning 14 to 28.  Moore continues to adamantly deny these allegations.

Politicians in his own party en masse have repudiated his candidacy in response to these accusations, and the Senate Republican leadership has suggested expelling him should he win this election. In this era of heightened sensitivity towards sexual misconduct, Moore is radioactive outside of Alabama.

In 2008 in the case of Stevens, the political refutation waited until after a trial and a conviction had occurred. No such due process has occurred in Alabama.

If Moore is guilty of these accusations, then by today’s standards his behavior was at a minimum unacceptable or, if there was sexual contact with the then 14-year-old girl, he is guilty of statutory rape. If this is the case, by his absolute and staunch denials Moore has clearly taken a page from the Bill and Hillary Clinton playbook — deny everything, blame someone else and wait for the controversy to fade from the public’s memory.

If these accusations are in fact not true, then he is a victim of a rather cynical dirty tricks campaign that in a very vile fashion besmirches his character.

The use of political dirty tricks and even the misuse of the instruments of the power of the federal government for political advantage is certainly nothing new, nor is the application of false accusation. What hangs in the balance is a pall of suspicion over what may be the true testimony of these women or, on the other hand, the reputation of  Moore.

The voters of Alabama are asked to make a judgment without any vetting of the facts of these accusations and without due process. If Alabama chooses to put Moore in the Senate, I suspect there  will be a national uproar over the vote, casting the voters of Alabama as troglodytes for electing a candidate of such poor moral stature.

Before we in Massachusetts become too self-righteous, we must keep in mind that this state has enthusiastically elected a senator accused of fabricating her ethnic background to help her win a job on the faculty of Harvard Law School as a minority candidate, and of plagiarizing recipes from a French chef as her entries into a cookbook of family Native American cooking.

We also can’t forget how Massachusetts lionized Ted Kennedy despite the events at Chappaquiddick.

Jay Fleitman, M.D., of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.